My Dinner in the Dark Experience
Dining in the dark originated in Zurich, Switzerland, with the opening of the first dark restaurant in 1999 by Jorge Spielmann, who was blind. The main idea of dining in the dark is to heighten our other senses, which supposedly can help to enhance our gastronomic pleasure. Since then, there have been many restaurants around the world offering this dining concept.
Encouraged by online reviews, I booked a dinner in the dark at a local restaurant called Nox, all ready to challenge my taste buds and table manners. But I must say, the experience had a completely different effect on me. Although the food did taste great, none of my taste buds were supercharged while I was eating in the dark (probably because I was too tense throughout most of the meal and I couldn’t wait for the meal to be over). The experience had instead given me a much needed perspective of life.
Entering the Dark Room
Before entering the dark room, we were seated in a lighted room and given some starters while reviewing the drinks menu (to pre-order any drinks we would like to accompany our dinner in the dark).
Soon after, we were introduced to our waiter who was visually impaired. He was responsible for guiding us up to the second floor of the restaurant (the dark room) and bringing us to our table. There were 2 other couples with us and we were requested to form a single line and rest our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us as the waiter guided all of us up to the room.
My initial response to stepping into a completely dark room was pure fear and panic. When I mean dark room, I mean it’s completely pitch black—you can't see a hint of shadow or outline. This totally shocked me (although I know I shouldn't be because I was supposed to know what was coming) and I felt quite helpless. I mean, I have been in a room with no light, but this was entirely different. I blinked a few times to try and see something (which usually works when my eyes are adjusting to a darker place). But I only saw black.
This experience had instead, given me a much needed perspective of life.
Some people may be thrilled by this new experience, but not me. The waiter could sense my uneasiness and asked if I was alright and whether I needed to head back downstairs. I was frankly quite embarrassed to tell him that this darkness was making me queasy and anxious (because he had zero choice but to live with this everyday while all I had to do was walk back to the lighted room).
Anyway, because it was quite a pricey meal, I had to somehow convince myself to stay and not let my mind get out of control. Luckily when the waiter sat me down at my table, I saw this little green dot light from a security camera right above my table and that gave me some relief to continue with the meal (the little light gave me some assurance that I could still see).
The waiter was so kind to ensure that I felt comfortable and calm before he proceeded to explain what we will be expecting.
Dinning In the Dark - The Flow
Our waiter explained that this was a 3-course dinner and every course will be served using a serving tray with 4 diamond-shaped bowls on it, each with a different food item (we weren't told what the menu would be—the restaurant just asked if we had any food restrictions). We were supposed to eat in a clockwise direction, starting with the bowl on our left.
He informed us that our utensils are on the table and there is a jug of water and two cups at the center of the table (which we could help ourselves to). A question immediately came to mind—how do I pour the water without overspilling?
As if he read my mind, the waiter informed us that to prevent overspilling, we could put our thumbs at the edge of the glass and stop pouring the water when the water touches our thumbs.
Of course, use my hands! Why didn't I think of that? But then again, when we are so accustomed to using our sight to do the job for us, it's only natural to be a little lost at what to do initially.
At the beginning of my meal I tried to be civilized and used my fork to eat. However, by the first course second bowl, I was already using a combination of hands and fork, and lifting the bowl to my mouth to scoop the food in. Table manners was definitely the last thing on my mind.
After the meal, we were brought back to the lighted area and presented with details of what we just ate. The waiter explained that this dining concept was to enhance flavors and to also make guests try out food that they never thought they would eat (for me it was sea urchin which they had on the menu).
I wasn't exactly paying attention to the waiter when she was explaining the menu because all I could think of when I could finally see again was how ENORMOUSLY grateful I am for my sight. My mind also started reciting a list of other things that I was grateful for.
1. The Mind Is a Very Powerful Tool
I was in a state of panic when I first stepped into the dark room. My mind kept telling me to "Get out get out!" and that "You won't be able to make it." I could feel myself almost losing my mind. However, when I started to consciously and repeatedly tell myself to calm down and to snap out of it, I felt better and that I was regaining control. So I think the mind is a pretty powerful tool that can be trained to help us control our emotions when we are presented with difficult situations.
2. Gratitude Can Be so Simple
We do not need to experience spectacular things to be grateful. There are many simple things we can be grateful for. Be grateful that we can scratch our nose when it's itchy, or take a breathe of fresh air without pain or difficulty. Be grateful that we can enjoy a cup of coffee or a kickass movie on Netflix. Be grateful that we woke up in the morning (we survived another day!) so we can have the opportunity to enjoy the day or to make life better.
3. Bravery Comes in Many Different Forms
A war hero is considered brave. A firefighter is considered brave. A healthcare worker who is in the front line helping patients in an epidemic is considered brave.
But I think the concept of bravery should be extended to those who are physically challenged. I cannot imagine my life without my sight and yet some individuals who lost their sight have to deal with it every day and have the mental strength to continue on. These are not people we generally term as brave, but rather the unfortunate, disabled or handicapped. We usually show sympathy instead of admiration them for their strength—but I think we can change our perspective on that.
4. Fear Of The Dark
As much as I would like to recommend this to everyone (as it has helped me to have a renewed sense of gratitude for my life), I would highly discourage anyone who has a major or slight phobia of being in the dark. It's not for the faint hearted.
However, if you would like to experience what it is like to be living in pitch dark, you can check out this website called Dialogue In The Dark, which is a social enterprise offering dinner or workshops in the dark in many countries around the world.
A tip when helping the blind (as shared by our Nox waiter)
If you see a blind person on the street and would like to extend a helping hand, you need to be dedicated to help the blind person for as long as needed. It can be extremely confusing (and of course scary) for the blind person if we decide to leave him/her in the middle of somewhere (just because you need to catch your bus or am late for an appointment). They can get disorientated because we may have moved them away from their familiar surroundings or route while trying to 'help' them.